Vox populi

Comments of the week: Weighing the need for more counselors

Two news items sparked disagreements in our comments section over the role guidance counselors play in schools this week.

First, we reported that the city would be rotating guidance counselors and social workers who lack permanent positions between multiple schools throughout the year. In past years, the nearly 300 counselors who are members of the Absent Teacher Reserve, (the pool of teachers who lack permanent jobs) stayed in one school for the length of a school year, or longer. But this year they will rotate from week to week to different schools, where they will perform administrative duties, but probably won’t be working one-on-one with students.

Then City Comptroller John Liu called for an increase in school counseling positions during a speech outlining his educational policy ideas that could help students prepare for college. Liu, a likely mayoral candidate, said city students so badly need help applying to college that it would be worth spending the money to hire 1,600 new guidance counselors—more than double the city’s current fleet of 1,300.

Commenters on the stories argued about the merits of both of these plans. Many, but not all, said hiring more guidance counselors would be an unequivocally good idea, particularly at a time when fewer schools have the budget to take on extra support staff.

“Mikemadden” described guidance counselors as “the lifeblood” of their schools:

The average person on the street cannot understand how valuable Guidance Counselors are to the students. Guidance Counselors provide social emotional support for kids in high needs. Guidance Counselors work with staff including Principal, Asst. Principals, teachers in planning out student success paths. Guidance Counselors provide all the programs for students, program changes, transcript reviews with students. college planning with students, family meetings with parents, attendance monitoring…..should I keep going…

In another comment, he touched on the catch-22 caused facing the city’s ATR guidance counselors: “Why pay a counselor to sit around somewhere in some school and do nothing and still get paid, and let a school go all year without a guidance counselor!”

“Old teach” said all schools should have guidance counselors to deal with safety:

A key component of the Guidance Counselors work load should be intervention with safety concerns. In Fact, the State at one time required any member serving as a dean of students have credits in counseling. If the school safety committee’s are still utilized, guidance counselors should be a factor in student discipline at least on the secondary level.

But “duceman99” disagreed, saying the Department of Education has failed to monitor guidance counselors, and some are ineffective:

Guidance Counselors are a complete waste. They do nothing for the kids. Kids play on the computer when the counselor is supposed to be working with them. Its a joke.

“Teacher/Counselor” said the 300-some guidance counselors and social workers in the ATR pool could be more effective if they were hired by schools fulltime. But even more important than more counselors, the teacher said, would be for the department to increase rigor in the academic programs that students must pass before graduating:

As a certified Professional School Counselor and a current teacher, I boil it down to three categories of concern:

1) We certainly need more counselors — caseloads that prevent counselors from knowing individual students’ names are absurd. 2) Many counselors get little to no college guidance training  – I got all of mine during internships, but it was NEVER mentioned during my classes, which were mostly about clinical-style therapy (don’t ask me why) or other duties that don’t really relate to the job.

3) The reason why kids aren’t going to college has LESS to do with the number of counselors and MORE to do with a lack of LEARNING.  Obviously these are (somewhat) related, but judging by the horrifically low numbers of students achieving college readiness levels on the Integrated Algebra exam (I’m a math teacher, so that’s where my expertise lies) its clear that a majority of NYC public school students just aren’t ready for the rigor of work that any post-secondary institution requires.  I love the idea of every student heading to college, I really do, but we need to keep them in high school (or middle school) a couple extra years, or dramatically improve the effectiveness of what happens in our classrooms, if we really want to make that happen!

Now, why our students are so far behind? The answer is complicated.  But it’s NOT just about more counselors, and that’s spoken by someone directly impacted by the freeze.

next stop

Robotics is bringing Betsy DeVos to Detroit for the first time as education secretary

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (U.S. Department of Education)

Betsy DeVos is set to appear in Detroit for the first time as education secretary on Friday, though she’s unlikely to encounter local students when she’s there.

DeVos is scheduled to attend a student robotics competition being held downtown in a bid to promote science and math education. The event is also likely to again highlight DeVos’s past influence over education policy in the city, which has been heavily scrutinized.

Before becoming President Trump’s education chief, DeVos, a prominent Michigan philanthropist, was a key architect of policies that many blame for the dire state of Detroit’s schools.

We’ve outlined that debate in full, but the key points are that the state’s charter law puts no restrictions on where or how many charter schools can open, which has created school deserts in some neighborhoods, and far too many schools in others. Both district and charter schools struggle financially with less-than-full enrollments, while student performance suffers across the board.

DeVos’ critics say she has blocked attempts to bring order and oversight to Detroit schools. Defenders note that parents now have more options and that charter school students in the city do slightly better on state exams than their peers in district schools.

DeVos also had a tense exchange with Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” about Michigan schools back in March.

“Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it,” she said.

DeVos’s announcement says she plans to meet with students on Friday. But while the event is happening in Detroit, the students DeVos encounters at the FIRST Robotics World Championship on Friday will almost surely hail from elsewhere. Earlier this week, Chalkbeat noted that just one city high school in Detroit qualified to send a team.

money talks

Funding for New York City homeless students, universal literacy in de Blasio’s executive budget

PHOTO: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces his 2019 budget proposal in the Blue Room at City Hall.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $90 billion city budget proposal includes millions of dollars for homeless students and to fuel a push to get every student reading on grade level by third grade.

The mayor’s official budget reveal comes after a major announcement Wednesday that the city will invest $125 million in schools, which principals can spend on items such as teacher salaries, after-school programs or new technology.

Taken together, the news means that New York City schools have avoided any budget cuts and instead received a sizeable boost in a year of funding uncertainty.

De Blasio took several shots at state lawmakers while unveiling his budget, emphasizing that the city invested in schools even as they received less than they anticipated in school funding from Albany.

“This certainly shows that even when Albany steps back, we step forward,” de Blasio said.  

Here’s what you need to know about education:

$30.5 million to boost literacy

De Blasio has said he wants his new schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, to “supercharge” his “universal literacy” program, which is attempting to help every third grade student read on grade level. On Thursday, de Blasio shed a little light on what he meant by outlining a plan to help the city’s neediest students.

The mayor’s plan would double after-school programs for students in shelters; provide more training for teachers of students learning English and students with disabilities; and boost the number of literacy coaches in low-performing schools.

De Blasio said that, though it hasn’t captured headlines, the city’s universal literacy program is going to be a focus for him moving forward. “This is one of the things the chancellor and I talked about the most during the interview process,” he said.

$12 million for social workers for students in shelters

The executive budget restores funding for homeless students that the preliminary budget lacked. For the past two years, de Blasio has left the funding stream out of his preliminary budget — drawing criticism from advocates.

That city’s budget will fund 53 social workers, according to Randi Levine, a policy director at Advocates for Children. Advocates have been calling for 150 social workers that would be spread out across schools and in shelters.

$23 million for anti-bias training

In the next school year, the city expects to train 10,000 education department employees, with the goal of reaching everyone in the department by the 2021-22 school year. The plan includes identifying schools that are adept in culturally relevant teaching so they can share their practices with other educators, and digging into data to uncover and address inequities in schools.

Derrick Owens, a father of two in Harlem, said he expects the expanded training will have a real impact in the classroom and help change the fact that students of color are disproportionately disciplined at school. Owens is a member of the Coalition for Educational Justice, a parent organization that has lobbied hard for more anti-bias training for teachers.

“Now what happens with the anti-bias training, teachers can identify a problem,” he said. “They won’t be quick to have the child disciplined or suspended. They’ll be able to work it out and able to solve the problem. I think it’s a win win.”

A “surprising” lack of funding from Albany

In his latest critique of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, de Blasio said the city expected to get $140 million in school aid from state lawmakers that never materialized. The state increased education spending by about $1 billion this year, but the boost was less than the city expected, de Blasio said.

“It was honestly very surprising that the number came in as low as it did,” de Blasio said.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.